His tiny toes

I get dreams. Many nights they keep me awake. Most nights they just tantalize me with little wisps of this and that, leaving me neither fully awake nor peacefully asleep. One face is common to all of those dreams. It belongs to my brother.

He was born 5 years after me. In those times, being five years old made you quite the adult. I knew that a baby was being born and that, that baby will take up all of my parents’ attention soon after. I quite hated him then.

But, who can stay angry at those tiny toes and fingers when they have committed no sin at all? The first time I held him in my arms, I vowed to protect him for the rest of his life. I promised him that I would be the perfect big sister and he would never lack for anything.

Right from the time he could crawl, he would follow me around and I let him. We were inseparable. My parents’ shifted his crib into my room and I rocked him to sleep every night. He was ten months and 37 days old when he took his first step…right off the bed. His cries brought us all running and we cried along with him because we missed such an important event in his life. He was the apple of our eye, after all, the centre of our universe.

He was all of 11 months when he learnt to spell my name- K-A-T-E- Kate. We called him a genius and lavished him with even more love, if that was possible. I showed him off to all my friends and they couldn’t help but be taken in with his chubby cheeks and sparkling eyes and gurgling laughter.

When he was one, we had the official naming ceremony for him. Rather late, everybody said. But, we said, finding a name for God’s greatest gift would indeed take time. After a lot of deliberation, we named him Henry. The name was my pick. But, to me, he was still the baby. I continued calling him baby.

He liked it, until he got to be about 4 years old. I was nine and one day, while I was picking up his toys after him, I told him, “Baby, you are a big boy now. You should be clearing up your own toys.”

He replied, “Yes, I’m a big boy now. You should stop calling me baby!” and he ran out of the room.

That was the first time my little brother opposed me.

The second time came two years later. He was six and he had come back home with his lunch box unemptied.

“Why didn’t you have your lunch?” I demanded to know.

“I wasn’t hungry,” my little brother muttered.

“How can you not be hungry? Do you realize all this food will now go to waste? There are millions of hungry people in this world and here you are wasting food. You can’t do that!” I scolded.

“I told you, I just wasn’t hungry and I can do what I want!” he stomped his little foot and marched off to his room.

Maybe his tone should have warned me. Maybe I should have been more observant of the way he talked to our parents. But, our love for him clouded everything else and none of us noticed what a spoilt brat we were letting out into the world.

He started with food, then money, then his intelligence and by the time he was 12, there were very few things he wasn’t wasting. I still loved him though. After all, he was my little brother and he could do no wrong.

When he was 13, he got arrested for the first time. He was smoking up on the corner of our street.

My parents were shocked. They couldn’t digest it- that their little boy was doing drugs!

I only felt a mild sense of bewilderment.

That night was the first of my sleepless nights. I wondered over and over again as to where we could have gone so wrong.

Two years later, he was arrested again- this time for distribution of drugs.

This time, my parents weren’t shocked. They had expected it sooner or later. I, on the other hand, marched up to my brother and smacked him hard on his cheek.

He stood there for a minute, one hand on his red cheek, shocked and staring.

Then, he smacked me right back.

**

That night I realized, he wasn’t in our hands anymore. He wasn’t that little boy who followed me around everywhere. He was no longer that sweet baby who waited for me to rock him to sleep every night. He wasn’t, any more, my little brother.

Maybe the seeds of hatred were planted then in my chest. For every day after that, when my brother and I hardly spoke to each other; for every time after that, when I saw him with his useless friends hanging out with cigarettes spilling from their lips; for every fight after that, during which he was blatantly rude to our parents in spite of which he would get away with what he wanted…I hated him.

It was then, that I started noticing the little things that went unnoticed or even if noticed, were never resented. How his shopping is always done before mine and what I buy is fit into the left over budget; how he was sent to a premium school while I struggled at the public school; how he never had to ask for money while I was made to work for every penny I got; how he had so much free time because he has to do none of the household chores; how, even now, he got everything he wanted in spite of being arrested twice and I, being the good girl and all, was made to feel as if everything I asked for was a burden upon the family.

That night there was another row. A lot of screaming and rudeness later, I finally stepped in to make peace; only to be told to shut up and not to interfere.

I had enough. I walked to my closet, packed up my things and walked out.

I doubt they even noticed anyway.

**

10 years has passed since that fateful night. I have a husband now and one child, a little boy that reminds me a lot of another little boy. But, this one is 4 now and he is yet to tell me to stop calling him baby. I might have left my old life behind, but the memories- they have no place to go but my mind. However, I have made my peace with the memories. Even found the resilience to smile at some of them.

Maybe that is why I was completely unprepared for the person I found on my doorstep that cloudy morning.

He had become skeletal and his hair was all but gone. But, a flicker of the old sparkle was still in his eyes and that is how I recognized my little brother.

He walked in as if he owned the house even as I stared at him in shock.

“Maybe a glass of brandy?” he asked jovially

My voice hadn’t returned to me yet and so, I just pointed him in the direction of the liquor cabinet.

He poured himself a glass of the best brandy on the rack and gulped it down. “Ah! That’s much better…” he muttered and then, turned to me, “So, how have you been? Long time, huh? What’s it been? 10-12?”

“10 years,” I croaked.

“You’re looking good!” he nodded appreciatively, “and nice place you’ve got here too. Really moved up in society, haven’t you?” he came closer, “Never thought of your little brother?”

I took in ragged breath and opened my mouth, “What do you want?” I asked.

“Why, nothing more than to see you, dear sister! Can’t a brother do that?” he replied laughing.

My cheeks turned red as anger filled my chest at his nonchalance. “A brother can! Not you!” I snapped.

“Ouch! Harsh words, sister! I’m so hurt!” he pouted, “But, don’t worry, I won’t be in your hair too long. Just gotta lie low a while, that’s it.”

“Lie low?” I narrowed my eyes at him, “What did you do, Henry?”

“There you go with your suspicions again! Haven’t changed much, have you?” he picked up the family photo from the mantel piece and ran his hand on it, “How is your little one dealing with it, I wonder…” he snickered.

The rush in my chest had nothing to do with my anger against his intrusion. It was all focused on this…this thug getting his hands on my child. With that one image running through my head, I turned around and ran for the cabinet and while he watched me in confusion, I whipped out the gun from the drawer and pointed it at him.

“You will not lay one finger on my son!” I shouted even as the confusion in his face gave way to disbelief.

“There now, there now, Kate, I meant no harm, not one bit. Put that gun down now, there’s a good girl, just put it down,” he spoke into the barrel staring him in the face and backed away slowly with his hands in the air.

“What did you do, Henry?” I demanded ominously.

“Well, hehe…well, you see,” he scratched his head nervously, “you see…you know the case…all those kids, wealthy private school…it’s been all over the news really,” he stammered.

I stopped in my tracks. “You mean those kids who died due to bad drugs?” I asked in disbelief.

“Eh…” he shrugged noncommittally.

“It was you? You sold them those drugs?” I took a few steps rapidly towards him, gun still held high, “But, they were kids, Henry, just little kids!”

“Eh…they want, I give. It’s not like I’m shoving it down their throats…” he said petulantly.

“You bastard…” my throat choked up.

“But, honest! I didn’t know the drugs were bad!” he protested with his eyes wide and round like he used to.

For that moment, I forgot the house, the crime, the drugs and I saw my little brother again- somewhere inside all that skeletal mess of a body was my little brother, still and my eyes filled with tears.

“I wish I could believe you, Henry, I really wish I could,” I said in a heavy voice, “But, I know you are lying and you know I know you are lying. Why did you do it, Henry?”

He smiled and suddenly, it was her Henry standing there again.

“Still as good as ever I see. My big sister. So many sacrifices you made for me, didn’t you? And look at how I turned out. Ah! The irony!” he laughed, “Do you want to know why I did it, Kate? Do you really? Because I was bored and curious. I wanted to see what would happen. That’s it. That is all my reason, really. Not a thing else. But, do you want to know the best thing about all of this? It is you, dear big sister! You can put that gun down now, Kate. We both know you are not going to shoot. After all, how could you shoot your dear little brother whom you love so much?” he pouted and started walking towards her, “You will help me, Kate, just like always, because I want you to. You know you will. So, put the gun down and take care of your little brother, Kate. Come on!”

He was hardly five feet away from her now and I started backing away from him. I could see his hand coming up to wrench the gun out of my hands.

“Stay back, Henry.” He didn’t stop.

“Stay back, I tell you!”

Two shots rang out in the silence of the afternoon.

**

“911, emergency. How can I help you…….”

**

When Harry, my son, was born, we had cameras installed in every room so as to never miss any of his major moments. After Harry grew up, we left functional cameras in the living room and in the office room and deactivated the rest. The living room camera was currently in police custody. I have already told them to preserve whatever is on it…except for the…umm…I’m calling it The Event in my head.

My brother was right. I couldn’t have shot him if he was 10 feet away from me and smiling. Then, it wouldn’t have been self-defence. But, make him come closer, much closer to me with his hand reaching out as if for my neck while the camera was capturing his profile perfectly, yes, that would make for a good defence. I should know. The husband and I, we are in the business of law after all.

I’d like to think the entire event was like that- cold and professional. But, the dreams that keep me up at night tell me otherwise. The guilt keeps gnawing at me. I killed my own brother. But, then I look at Harry and this feeling subsides a little.

Yes, I did make the world a safer place by killing him. But, for me, my life just got a lot more difficult.

*END*

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